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7Dec/11

Synchronous Gameplay on Facebook – the Time is Now

By Regina Leuwer

Synchronous multiplayer functionality in Gunshine.net on Facebook.

For a long time, successful social games had one thing in common – asynchronous gameplay. But now, a new generation of developers has emerged who believe there is room for synchronous games on Facebook. One of them is Supercell from Finland who brought multiplayer real-time gaming to Facebook with their RPG Gunshine.net. So far, 230,000 monthly active users seem to like the idea. Mikko Kodisoja, the company’s art director, shared some insights on their synchronous approach.

Most Facebook games are asynchronous

Synchronous games allow interacting with other persons in the game real-time, while asynchronous is more towards turn-based actions, also referred to as parallel play. Players don’t need to be online at the same time to interact in asynchronous games. But the interaction is also limited to what can happen in one round, without the other party.

'Classic' social games like wooga's Monster World mostly utilize asynchronous gameplay.

Especially on Facebook where players might be online only a few minutes each session, many developers believe that asynchronous, or parallel, play makes more sense because it would be difficult to find enough friends to play with who are online at the same time.

So why build a synchronous game for Facebook? “As a developer it makes your life much easier to build a synchronous game and add asynchronous elements to it than vice versa,” Mikko tells us.

Not all Facebook gamers play only 5 minute sessions

Gunshine.net sees different usage patterns: There are power users who play several times a day with active session length being more than 30 minutes per session and they have on average ten friends they actively play with. Some of the players show more casual gaming habits during the day but have longer sessions in the evening. Some players are fond of using only asynchronous features while others seek for real people to group up with.

To connect users in real-time, Supercell implemented a live chat: “Our players use in-game private chat for making friends. First they become character friends, not knowing others’ Facebook identity, and if they really like to play with each other, they will then connect via Facebook and get some in-game bonuses for it.”

Synchronous and asynchronous doesn’t have to be contrary

Mikko believes that synchronous and asynchronous gameplay isn’t mutually exclusive. “Synchronous game play is not overriding parallel play. It also deepens the gaming and social experience when you face the challenge with a group of people, real-time. You want to win together, now – not tomorrow,” Mikko explains. Tomorrow will still be an important though, because by then players can return and by coming back will get a new weapon from crafting, or a daily reward. However, according to Mikko, Gunshine.net beta users said that new connections they make in the synchronous part of the game are the main reason they keep coming back to it in the long run.

Asynchronous gameplay steps in when friends let you down

In Gunshine.net, players interact in real-time in a live chat window.

Playing with other people in real-time means that you have to rely on those people – and nothing spoils the fun like a multiplayer game where you’re suddenly play alone. Developers know that and combine synchronous with asynchronous elements to compensate for unreliable friends. In Gunshine.net, the asynchronous aspects of the game kick in when no friends are available online or drop out during missions – they then are replaced by with mercenaries controlled by artificial intelligence.

But there are still users who don’t want to rely on others for their gaming experience – can they even enjoy these games? “If you don’t have friends, you can always go and hire NPC mercenary to help you out. It just costs more,” Mikkos says. Mikko is confident that synchronous elements are not going away and could also be extended to other genres than RPGs, e.g. simulations. “Some people want to play solo for months before entering the multiplayer layer of the game. But ultimately, we want to create games where people will also meet new people and make new friends.”

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